Revelation 3:14-22 & John 4:7-26
New for Old Part 2
Last week we had part one of a three part sermon series entitled ‘New For Old’.
You may remember we examined how three plants spoken about in the Old Testament – The Crown of Thorns bush, the hyssop plant and the Sycamore fig tree had a profound impact and an enhanced symbolism when it came to the New Testament.
That is, these plants not only link the Old and New Testaments by their appearance, but it also helps to enhance our understanding of the God who came to earth and the mission of Salvation and Redemption.
Today, we will be looking at new understandings in the Bible that can come through understanding the context or world in which it was written.
We will see also how the writers of the Bible were speaking into that context that would have greatly resonated with its original audience.
Just to open with an example before we delve into today’s two readings brought to us earlier.
We know that Jesus himself often quoted Old Testament scripture and particularly that of Isaiah. In Isaiah 55, remembering our discussion from last week, in verse 12-13 we read:
‘You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure for ever.’
We might see a linking of the Jesus of the New Testament with the Old Testament through the flora mentioned.
In Isaiah 11:1-2 we read:
‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord’
In Revelation 5:5 we read:
Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’
Jesus if often referred to as being of the royal line of David who was born in Bethlehem, of Jesse and David’s line. Jesus, of course, spent much of his life in his earthly father’s (Joseph) house in Nazareth. Nazareth, interestingly, while it didn’t exit in Old Testament times, is a Hebrew word for shoot or offshoot – perhaps a derogatory term for this new 1st century upstart town that was not part of the Old Hebraic culture-but became part of fulfilled prophesy in the Gospels.
Our first reading today, of course, was written just before the close of the New Testament – ‘Canon’ The Book of Revelation starts with a series of letters written to the seven early and often struggling Christian churches in what is today, Western Turkey. It was written by an apostle whose name was John.
In the letter to those of Laodicea John had an intimate knowledge of the town, its natural features and its industries to write in a way that would certainly convict folks and hopefully convince many of the locals of their errant ways by using powerful signs and images.
Laodicea was known for its great wealth. John tells the Laodicean church to buy their Gold from Christ – not man.
The town was known throughout the Roman Empire for its medicinal eye salve (ointment) and for its cloth and dyeing industries. John says they need to put on pure white clothes (Christ’s righteousness) and his eye ointment so their eyes would be healed to see the truth. You may like to read John 9:39 to see Jesus emphasis on blindness versus seeing.
Most poignant however, Laodicea sits in a valley with Hierapolis on one side with its famous travertine hot pools that today is called Pamukkale and snow covered mountains on the other side.
The old Roman pipes for carrying water – either hot or cold from each side of the mountain range to meet in the middle – can still be seen today.
When the waters met from the hot pools and the snow melt, they become lukewarm – neither hot nor cold.
John plays on this image of waters mixing to convict the Laodiceans of their own lukewarmedness when it came to their faith. Often we might spit out lukewarm water when we go to drink it.
Here we see a case in point, of how a little bit of local knowledge, gives us today a new insight into the messages of the Bible.
Our second reading today is the equally well known story of the Woman at the Well.
The first thing to note is Jesus describing himself as living water (an image that is found way back in Isaiah 44:3). Jesus is no doubt looking around at the immediate vicinity of the well.
The soils of this area in Israel and Samaria are light, limey and dry soils – that is, they didn’t hold water. Wells were important – for the survival of crops as well as the survival of people.
There were a number of natural underground limestone chambers called cisterns or wells from which people would draw water in the dry months.
People dug narrow ditches to direct and channel surface run-off into these wells.
While the well water could be stagnant, the living water was also called the flowing water as it ran along these channels.
This running, flowing, renewing life-giving water that fills the wells to overflowing is a picture that Jesus is painting of himself.
In verse 34, Jesus gives some indication of what time of year this event with the woman takes place. Four months before the harvest (and the feast of the Tabernacle) which means it was in mid-winter – possibly December.
In Israel there is only a likelihood of rain during the six months of the year – from mid-winter on. The Jews prayed for rain up to three times a day during this period. Only if it came was the lifeblood of the land restored and food could grow.
In verse 32 Jesus says:
‘I provide food to eat that you know nothing about’.
Food that is not perishable and water that is endless.
The timing of this story is exquisite, for it would resonate with the ancient people’s understanding of the agricultural system and seasons and Jesus sheeted the point home in ways, that we in the Southern hemisphere, largely urban dwelling, technologically savvy 21st century Christians might not quite get.
When we understand a little of the ancient Biblical context, whether it be the culture, industry, farming and religious practices of its people we find – what is old can indeed become new again.
Next week in our New for Old series we will look at parallel stories and images in the Old and New Testament – such is found in Genesis 1 and John 1 – and how they are linked and how the enhance one another.